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Human Rights 75

Vienna +30 looks to the future of human rights

02 June 2023

Natural History Museum in Vienna © Getty Images/denizunlusu

June marks the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, a landmark document that paved the way for human rights breakthroughs and led to the creation of UN Human Rights.

To celebrate the occasion, the Government of Austria and UN Human Rights will hold a high-level event on 5-6 June in Vienna to reflect on progress and revitalize a worldwide consensus on human rights, essential to confront today’s challenges. Thirty years after the Vienna Declaration, the world faces multiple crises, and the commitment to human rights is more important than ever.

The two-day event will also be one of the key milestones in a year-long initiative by Human Rights to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The Vienna Declaration infused the global consciousness with a straightforward yet pivotal formula for human rights: that you cannot have one human right without the other,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, who will take part in the celebrations and will meet Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and other officials. Leading human rights defenders and thought leaders will participate in panels.

Building on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, delegates at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna overcame differences and affirmed the universality, indivisibility and interdependency of human rights.

The Vienna consensus represented a substantial commitment by Member States to pay greater attention to human rights and gave birth to historical advances on rights of women, children, indigenous peoples, minorities and other groups. The conference also led to historic advances in the fight against impunity, including the establishment of the International Criminal Court, raising hope that the world’s most at atrocious crimes would not go unpunished.

June marks the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

June marks the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Human rights and youth

However, new challenges are holding back the fulfilment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among these, digitalization and climate change, skyrocketing inequalities, gender discrimination, and a rise in hate speech, disinformation and polarization.

Young people are today at the forefront of human rights activism and see themselves as members of a generation with the most at stake on issues from climate change to digital rights. The first event will be a Vienna Youth Human Rights Defenders Conference on Monday, 5 June.

UN Human Rights has established a Youth Advisory Group, which participates in the design, implementation and follow-up of the Human Rights 75 initiative.

“Anniversaries are only important in as far as they lay out a foundation to respond to the challenges of the future,” said Courteney Mukoyi, a human rights activist from Zimbabwe who specializes in technology, AI and civic engagement.

Mukoyi, 27, called on governments to invite young people to the decision-making table to confront the human rights challenges of today.

“You cannot make decisions about us, without us. It’s impossible,” he added.

On Tuesday 6 June, Türk will deliver a keynote address. There will also be panels addressing the universality of human rights, technology and human rights, as well as human rights as the solution to global challenges. Panel speakers will include EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore, Austrian Economy Minister Martin Kocher, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebad and UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Mary Lawlor, among others.

The Vienna Declaration is a living document that can guide us today in our ambitions.

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Human Rights 75

For Venus Aves, an LGBTIQ+ rights activist from the Philippines, the dramatic rollback in human rights that is taking place across the world is proof that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is more relevant than ever.

“The price we pay for our freedom is constant vigilance for our human rights,” said Aves, 22, also a member of the Youth Advisory Group.

Throughout 2023, UN Human Rights is celebrating the Human Rights 75 initiative to promote the universality and indivisibility of human rights and to call on States and all others to make pledges, and to take clear steps to fulfil the promises of the Universal Declaration.

Leaders from around the world, together with human rights institutions, civil society organizations, young people, artists and others are currently engaged in frank conversations, aimed at delivering practical solutions to address today’s global challenges.

The Human Rights 75 initiative culminates in a high-level event on 11-12 December in Geneva.

“The full realisation of human rights for everyone is a work in progress, and we need to adapt and update our thinking to respond to the challenges that lie ahead,” Türk said.